Backyard blooms, berries and beyond

Backyard blooms, berries and beyond

Following on in the “B” theme, look in this blog post for a bull frog, blue damselfly and Indiana dunes beach….

IMG_8536

The butterfly weed is in bloom.  We are waiting for the monarch butterflies to visit…

IMG_8509

Veronica spicata Spike speedwell ‘Royal Candles’ a little bit past its prime.  Red hot poker flowers in the background.

IMG_8523Kniphofia red hot pokers in front of miscanthus ‘morning light’ ornamental grass.

IMG_8590

The view from the patio.

IMG_8551

Aruncus goat’s beard does well on the north side of the house.

IMG_8508

The first gaillardia blooms.

IMG_8585

Bright yellow yarrow, and in the background salvia ‘blue hill.’

IMG_8548

The alyssum re-seeds itself each year and is starting to bloom now.

IMG_8460

Does cauliflower count as a flower?  I cooked this up in a soup today!

IMG_8527

The collards are looking nice and we are trying to keep up with eating them before the cabbage worms do their munching.  This plant does not look too chewed on.

IMG_8550

We haven’t had to buy lettuce for a few weeks.  This leaf lettuce is nice, but the romaine is starting to bolt with the hot weather.

IMG_8599

In a bowl this morning from our yard – serviceberries, strawberries, mulberries and raspberries.  I enjoyed them with my oatmeal.

IMG_8572

Ripening serviceberry.  I am competing with the birds for these now.  The robins are often in the serviceberry tree.

IMG_8530Unfortunately this berry loving cedar waxwing died after crashing into our kitchen window!  I saw a big serviceberry in its mouth before it died.

IMG_8518

A downy woodpecker has been visiting the birdbath.

IMG_8596

There seem to be a lot of wasps in the yard this year.

IMG_8562

Blue damselfly on miscanthus ornamental grass.

IMG_8410

We visited Indiana Dunes State Park last weekend.  We hiked for a couple of hours in the dunes before enjoying our lunch with the crowd on the beach.

IMG_8426

A little cactus along the prairie trail.  This state park has quite a few endangered species.

IMG_8462

Tomahawk Slough in the Palos Forest Preserve, where we hiked last Sunday.

IMG_8464

One of many bullfrogs at Tomahawk Slough.

IMG_8496

There were also a ton of little toads or frogs hoping around near the water and on the trail.  I guess it is time for them to head out on their own and see if they survive.

IMG_8480

Great blue heron at Tomahawk Slough.

Birding:  I signed up for a birding blitz in the Palos Forest Preserve for June 17th.  I am just an amateur birder, so I was looking forward to going out with someone who could identify a ton of birds.  I showed up in the parking lot at 5:30 am and then remembered to check my email on my phone.  The blitz had been canceled for weather reasons, as thunderstorms were predicted.  I could hear all the birds around me, but the expert birders were not there.  We did not get any rain on Saturday as I guess the rain fell somewhere else.  But it was probably a good thing that I was not involved, as my foot has been giving me some trouble after all that hiking last weekend.  So it is a good weekend to just rest and recover and get this blog post done!

 

Thankful For Pleasant Autumn Days

It is a good time of year to be thankful for the growing season and the harvest.  The garden is ready for winter now.  We have had such a pleasant, warm autumn, but now I am looking forward to the quiet and rest of winter.

img_6656

We mowed the lawn as short as possible.  The fothergilla bush still has red leaves, on the left.  These pictures of the whole yard are always interesting to me, when I compare how things look from season to season and year to year in these blog posts as trees and bushes grow.  It still looks pretty green today and I just watched some sparrows and dark-eyed juncos fighting for space at the bird bath, that is not frozen.

img_6619

The fothergilla bush on 11/21.

img_6660

The grass clippings and mulched leaves went into the compost pile, which it pretty hot today.  We have eaten almost all of the Brussel sprouts.  The rhubarb is winding down.  I pulled out a lot of the strawberry runners and babies, but they like the cool weather, and will be green for a while.

img_6655

Last Sunday I went to the horse stables and brought back manure to spread around the garden and blend into the soil over the winter.  Still active at this time of year are kale, collards, garlic, parsley, mint, and oregano.

img_6577

On 11/16 this common buckeye butterfly was warming itself on our driveway.

img_6621

The green tomatoes are gradually ripening.

img_6610

Sometimes while working in the garden I hear the sandhill cranes flying overhead on their way to an Indiana sandhill crane gathering.

img_6640

At Lake Katherine the beaver has been getting ready for winter, too.  The lodge is well covered with mud and trees have been brought in close for easy access in cold weather.

img_6592

Last weekend we took a walk at Pioneer Woods in the Palos Forest Preserve, where restoration work has been going on.  The green leaves are probably mostly on invasive honeysuckle bushes.  Winter is a good time to cut those down and build some big bon fires to clear out the forest undergrowth.

img_6564

Harvest moon.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet and Moths

Golden-Crowned Kinglet and Moths

Birds are migrating.  Insects are slowing down.  The last flowers are blooming.  The last vegetables are being harvested.  Here are a few pictures.

img_6018

Two weeks ago I saw this golden-crowned kinglet hopping around the crabapple tree.

img_6091

I am not sure what kind of moth this was, but it let me get close as it gathered nectar from the marigolds today.

img_6118

This little moth was taking shelter under a nasturtium leaf.

img_6077

We still have a monarch butterfly hanging around the zinnias.  When the zinnias are covered with fall shade for a while in the afternoon the monarch moves to the pole beans.

img_6093

Nearby a grasshopper was moving slowly.

img_6112

I think this is a black cricket, also on the pole beans.

img_6045

The coral mums have been blooming for a while, attracting a lot of bees and flies.

img_6047

A closer look at the mums.  I think that is a hover fly, though it could be a bee…

img_6043

The pineapple sage is blooming wonderfully, but the hummingbirds have left to fly south now.  I think there are still a variety of small pollinators enjoying these red tubular flowers.

img_6135

Just a few gaillardia flowers are still blooming, but the bumble bees really love them.  The white flowers are alyssum.

img_6061

The ‘morning light’ miscanthus grass is at its peak now and is at least 6 feet tall this year.

img_6137

Seed heads of ‘little bunny’ pennisetum grass

img_6125

Strawberry flower and little strawberry.  You never know what you will find around the garden.

img_6079

We are gradually adding brussel sprouts to our soup each Sunday.

img_6143

I took a look today and there are a lot of green tomatoes in the garden!  I don’t see frost in the forecast, but I will keep my eye on the weather report.

IMG_6064.JPG

My Arab neighbor friend is back from Jordan and came to gather a bag full of collard leaves.  Quite a few of the collard leaves are chewed by worms, and she did not want those, because I think she uses them to roll up a spicy meat dish.  We totally welcome someone to share these greens with.

IMG_6036.JPG

Last Saturday was my first day with a volunteer team of around 20 people that were cutting brush and burning.  We were almost exclusively cutting back Eurasian bush honeysuckle.  We had two big bonfires going.

img_6073

Today Dan and I just took a wonderful early morning walk through the prairie and forest at Spears Woods in the Palos forest preserve.  We bumped into the volunteer crew as we were leaving. They were getting ready for another productive day.  By clearing the invasive shrubs they are opening up the ground for native plants to thrive, which in turn provides habitat for a greater variety of birds, insects, and other wildlife.  With habitats diminishing everywhere for so many species this is valuable work, in order to maintain healthy ecosystems.

Plum Blossoms and Cow Birds

Plum Blossoms and Cow Birds

There is so much going on in the garden now it is impossible to capture it all.  Here are a few things that caught my attention this week, as spring enters the Chicago area with gusto.

IMG_3238

The two American plum trees, native trees, have put on a fantastic fragrant show this week in the yard.

IMG_3242

All kinds of tiny pollinators swarmed to the blossoms.

IMG_3233

We had quite a few plums develop last summer.  The skin was sour, but the inside flesh was very good.  There are many suckers growing around the base of the trees that need to be cut back or they would form a thicket.

IMG_3212

I noticed a spider making a web between the plums trees and the yew bushes nearby, hoping to snag some of the pollinators.

IMG_3261

Looking out the kitchen window we can just see the plum trees between the crab apple tree, that is just starting to bloom now, and the yew shrubs.  The yews have formed a nice privacy area in front of the patio.

IMG_3204

The serviceberry Amlanchier laevis finished blooming last week.  Now that it is taller it is a little harder to reach the berries in June, but the birds have no trouble with that.

IMG_3244

The three Regent Saskatoon serviceberry bushes, Amalanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’, are blooming now on the west side of the house.  When we planted them they had the shade of the silver maple, but now with that gone they get more sun, so we will need to water them now and then.  They are supposed to get no taller than six feet.

IMG_3217

One day I looked out the kitchen window and saw a bunch of cow birds in the chinquapin oak, that is just barely beginning to leaf out.

IMG_3218

Handsome male cow birds interested in something in the chinquapin oak tree.  Notice the bird in the bottom left.  Is it a female cow bird?  Or some other bird?

IMG_3221

Here is another shot of that bird.  Since it was in the tree with the male cow birds I assumed it was a female cow bird.  They lay their eggs in other birds’ nest.  The eggs hatch early and tend to get more food from the foster mother bird than the smaller baby birds in the nest.

IMG_3229

I got 21 heads of romaine lettuce planted in the garden last week along with a dozen kale and collard plants.  Organic vegetables are expensive to buy in the grocery store, so hopefully these will keep me supplied with greens for a while.

IMG_3228

The grass is growing quickly.  After Dan mowed I swept up just the grass on the sidewalk and threw if on the compost pile, where Dan mixed it in to get the pile heated up.  To the right you can see strawberries starting to blossom.  I finally finished cleaning up all the strawberry patches and putting straw from last year’s ornamental grass under them.  It looks like we have a bumper crop of strawberries coming.

IMG_3173

The house sparrows keep trying to build a nest in this bird house.  But this house is not for them….

IMG_3257

Shagbark hickory at the end of the block starting to leaf out.  I am trying to bet better at identifying different native trees.

IMG_3250

Spring Beauty Claytonia virginica.  These wildflowers are also blooming in the green space at the end of the block.

Forest Preserve Event:  Yesterday I went to the Palos Paddock area of the Forest Preserve for a special event that the Friends of the Forest Preserve put on.  They are looking for volunteers to help in the restoration of the forest.  Invasive plants, such as honeysuckle, have filled in the undergrowth and suppressed native plants.  We went on a walk in small groups and it was a fantastic time with like minded people as we identified plants, saw butterflies, and discussed conservation.  I would love to join them now and then and learn more about native plants, the forest, and how best to do restoration, though my schedule and garden keep me very busy.  But it was so much fun because they were a group of “my people” who love plants, nature, and being outdoors!

Yellow-rumped Warbler and Daffodils

March was warm, but April has been cool.  We had snow this weekend.  Meanwhile it is time for spring bird migration and I was able to take a picture of a yellow-rumped warbler in the garden for the first time this past week.

IMG_3090

It was almost sun-down when I caught this picture of a yellow-rumped warbler.  I got a lot of blurry pictures, too.

IMG_3100

Mourning dove and daffodils.

IMG_3105

On a rainy day a few small insects seek shelter in the daffodil trumpet.

IMG_3162

The different kinds of daffodils bloom at different times, so they keep in bloom for quite a long time.

IMG_3144

These mini daffodils would be wrapping up now, but the weather has been so cool that they continue to look great!

IMG_3133

Just above the daffodils a dark-eyed junco pauses in the viburnum bushes.

IMG_3109

I love these white daffodils.

IMG_3103

I believe this is a double daffodil – Ice King.  I am not that impressed, since they are so heavy they often hang down or get bent over by the snow or wind.

IMG_3102

The crabapple –  Malus ‘Profusion’-  has young red leaves now.

IMG_3152

The robins are active now.  I have not pulled down the old collard stalks, though it seems clear that they are dead.  Behind them the rhubarb leaves are beginning to unfurl.

IMG_3120

The spicebush is finishing up blooming now.  A black-capped chickadee was singing in the spicebush today.  The chickadees nested in the bluebird bird house last spring/summer, since bluebirds have stopped visiting.

IMG_3116

Our common lilac, which was huge, had a lot of dead branches.  We cut them all off except this one branch and a few shoots.  If it does not revive we will plant something else, but we are pretty lazy, so we will see if it revives on its own.  The mourning dove slipped into this picture, too.

IMG_3099

A house finch in the sun yesterday.

IMG_3112

I planted garlic bulbs last spring.  They died back last year and appeared again this spring.  On the internet it says:  “Harvest when the tops begin to yellow and fall over, before they are completely dry.”  This will probably be in July or August.  I should get some lettuce seeds planted soon.  I have some kale coming up that survived the winter.  In a few weeks it will be time to start planting hardy vegetables.

Dark-eyed Junco, Squirrel and Christmas

Dark-eyed Junco, Squirrel and Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve and there is no snow on the ground.

IMG_2531

The cyclamen is starting to bloom.  The grass is green and we have had a lot of rain recently.  It was 60 degrees earlier this week.

IMG_2460

We have had a lot of dark-eyed juncos in the yard this year.  Maybe it is all the leaf litter under the Chinquapin oak tree that they like.  Sometimes I have seen six of these little birds poking in the leaves in the morning at once.

IMG_2466

This picture is a little fuzzy, but I like how soft the feathers look.  Dark-eyed juncos are primarily seed-eaters, so there is a lot of pecking and scratching going on.

IMG_2462

The bird bath has been freezing and thawing this autumn.  The birds peck at the ice and sometimes get a drink or a bath.

IMG_2450

It seems like each morning around 9 am the squirrel comes to the crabapple tree for a snack.

IMG_2457

Sometimes it is a stretch…

IMG_2471

Squirrels are so acrobatic they keep us entertained.

IMG_2522

The birds don’t seem too interested in these crabapples, so glad someone is enjoying them!

IMG_2511

Tiny hands, beautiful fur, playful antics…

IMG_2505

One day Dan brought home some nuts from the airport that were pretty stale.  I put them out on the ground and three squirrels were enjoying them.  This guy is eating an almond, which is maybe out of his usual diet.  The other squirrels had a pecking order and could only get near the nuts when the big squirrel let them.

IMG_2474

The last of the collards have survived the cold so far.  I might pick a few leaves for dinner tonight.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Northern Cardinal, Snow and Last Garden Greens

We have had a pleasant autumn.  This past week we had some snow, but it did not stick on the sidewalk, so no shoveling.  It has melted now and we had a lovely walk in the woods this afternoon.

There seem to be quite a few northern cardinals in the yard these days.

IMG_2378

Male northern cardinal trying out the crab apples outside our kitchen window.

IMG_2381

Let’s see how the next one tastes…

IMG_2382

Some years the crab apples go uneaten, so glad they seem edible this year.

IMG_2363

Female northern cardinal working on a red yew berry.  I think the cardinals have found and eaten all the berries on the hicksii yews now.

IMG_2397

House sparrows hang out in the bare branches of the American plum tree.

IMG_2345

This shot was taken a few weeks ago from the kitchen window.  Can you see the neighbor cat who comes to visit?  Generally I don’t like the cat reducing the biodiversity in the yard, but I guess I don’t mind the help if it is getting rid of some of the house sparrows.

IMG_2350

On Wednesday we had a pretty snowfall, but it quickly melted away.  The winter shadows are long now.

IMG_2433

I just took this shot of the remains of our garden.  We continue to pick a few collard green each time we cook, and we got a few tiny Brussel sprouts today.  Mint, parsley, oregano, and thyme are still green if I want them.  Last Sunday a took some buckets, filled the trunk up with horse manure from the local stable, and spread it on the garden.  We also turned the compost pile yesterday and harvested about a foot of compost from the bottom of the pile and threw in the garden.  We can spread it around where needed in the spring.  I see the squirrel’s tail as it makes a get away on the back fence…

IMG_2440

Winterbor kale is still growing.  Wonder if it will make it through the winter and start up again in the spring.

IMG_2438

The little bluestem grass is wonderful this time of year.  It turns red with feathery seed heads.

IMG_2401

When we went to the forest preserve today the woods were quiet and peaceful.

IMG_2408

These scraggly roots are just a glimpse of the living matter under the ground holding this forest in place.  All the leaves are down now and the deciduous forest can rest until next spring.